I totally stole that title from the article that inspired this post. I just can’t wait to see how many unintentional hits we get from the buzz words in this entry.
We’ve all heard/read about homosexuality in animals, which seems to support the claim that homosexuality is natural, despite the obvious lack of synergy in the reproductive department. But the article Bisexual Species, in the bimonthly (how apt) issue of Scientific American MIND, put forth some thought provoking, if not highly speculative, ideas about this claim. It points out that animals that engage in homosexual activities generally don’t refrain from heterosexual activities. They are, in effect, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, but bisexual. And the same goes for “straight” animals. Sociologist Eric Anderson (University of Bath, England) puts it this way, “Animals don’t do sexual identity. They just do sex.”
The article points out that humans are the only species to apply rigid labels such as “straight” or “gay”, and insinuates that these labels may be somewhat contrived (I think the exact wording was “socially constructed”). The overall implication is that, although individuals (animal or human) may lean toward a particular sexual orientation, bisexuality of varying degrees may be more ubiquitous than we realize, depending on the circumstances. That is, “straight” people, like animals, may engage in “gay” activities, and vice versa, depending on the situation.
I consider myself “straight”, and I have friends that are both “gay” and “bisexual”. How valid are these labels? In reality, is sexuality fluid depending on the circumstances? (Please no puns about sex and fluid)
The article focuses on animal sexuality and identifies these key motivations for same sex couplings (in animals): conflict resolution, protection of offspring, limited availability of opposite sex partners, and fun. Here are some of the observations offered in the article:
The article reports that baboons of both genders offer sexual favors to more mature or intimidating baboons of the same gender as a way to make peace or acquire protection. Another example is the Bonobos, who are highly sexual and, as a rule, favor neither gender. The article says that if a female Bonobo hits another Bonobo’s child, the two adults will resolve this conflict by copulating.
Protection of Offspring
Joan Roughgarden (Stanford) says, “…evolutionary biologists tend to adhere too strongly to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and have thus largely overlooked the importance of bonding and friendship to animal societies and the survival of their young. [Darwin] equated reproduction with finding a mate rather than paying attention to how the offspring are naturally reared.” Examples given include black swans, whose young are better protected from predators by two males, instead of a heterosexual pairing, and oyster catchers, whose polygamous partnerships produce more surviving young for the same reason.
Limited Availability of Opposite Sex Partners
Same sex couplings in normally heterosexual creatures, such as penguins and koalas, surface more frequently when animals are in captivity, such as zoos, speculatively because of the lack of opposite sex partners. This phenomenon can also be observed in prisons and the military. The article suggests that the stress of captivity and contrived gender ratio are possible explanations.
Since no specific examples are given for this one, I assume that this refers to one’s instinctive attraction toward one gender or the other. However, it could also refer to encounters that deviate from one’s formal orientation, for recreation, apart from the primary relationship.
So, what do you think…are humans different from animals in that we are strictly “gay” or “straight”? Or is human sexuality more malleable than our social norms dictate?